When I was recently asked to write an article for a magazine about mothers in the workplace, I immediately thought: No, I’m not going to write about that. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, I don’t really work. With the exception of this column and the odd freelance article, I haven’t held a paying job in 13 years. (Yes, I know that being a mother is work. More on that later.) The second reason, and the more important one, is that I am a big fat chicken and really don’t like to write about controversial topics – and I’ve always thought of working vs. stay-at-home mothers as a controversial topic.
But the truth is that it isn’t really. Not anymore. Like coconut water and Kimye, I think the so-called “Mommy Wars” have been hyped up by the media and have little to do with real people’s lives. Maybe there was once a rift between the two factions back in the 1980s when the workplace was just opening up to professional women, but we live in a different world today. Thankfully we have options as mothers, and while we may not have shattered the glass ceiling yet, we have certainly shattered the glass umbilical cord. (Um, wait. No, that’s not a thing. That’s gross. You know what I mean though, right?) We have shattered the theory that women must stay in the home and raise the children while the father goes off to work. In today’s world, the debate of whether to work or stay home is more likely to go on inside a woman’s own mind than play out in any kind of public forum.
Most, if not all, of the women I know feel no animosity toward other mothers because they work outside the home or because they don’t. Over the past 13 years, I’ve talked to hundreds of mothers and not a single one has ever said anything disparaging about a mom on the “other side” just because she is on the “other side.” We might disagree about sleep schedules, formula vs. breast milk, and the number of acceptable days in a row one can wear yoga pants– but these issues have nothing to do with employment status. In the end, I think we all want to feel fulfilled in our daily lives, and no one much cares if you find your bliss in the boardroom or in the playroom.
The decision to work or not for moms is often a financial one, but not always. Some mothers work because they have to, some because they want to, and many because of a complex equation of the two, the product of which is then multiplied to the power of Guilt. It can feel like a lose-lose-lose situation. If you stay home, you lose the opportunity to build your career; if you go to work, you miss out on special moments with your child; and if you don’t have a choice, you feel utterly trapped.
So maybe the whole Mommy Wars discussion should be less about working vs. stay at home mothers, and more about how our culture still hasn’t adequately responded to the reality that roughly 70% of women with children are working. Instead of a hyped up decades old argument, maybe we should start a frank discussion about the dismal maternity leave policies, lack of affordable childcare options, and the paucity of support for mothers in the workplace? Maybe we should talk about introducing public policies that aid women who make the difficult choice to put their working lives on hold to raise children? Maybe we should be discussing the insanity that a working mother makes 73 cents on a similarly qualified man’s dollar?
These are subjects I think all mothers, and a good number of other people, would agree are worthy of public debate. This pre-fab construct of pitting mothers against mothers diverts attention from the real and serious issues facing so many of us as we are busy, you know, proliferating the human race. So maybe what we need instead of the Mommy Wars is a Mommy Revolution?
(Oh, look! I guess it wasn’t so hard to write about a controversial subject after all.)
Let’s face it: Most of us are not raising professional athletes. Most of us are probably not even raising college athletes. Competition being what it is these days, I think most of us are going to be lucky to raise an intramural athlete. So the sports-induced craziness seen at the courts, fields, and tracks on any given weekend seems a bit excessive to me.
I was recently at my son’s basketball game and a woman whose child was on the other team kept yelling, “C’mon guys-you’re bigger than them! You’re stronger than them! You’re better than them! Win the ball! Win the ball! WIN IT!” I should mention that at the time they were crushing us by like 50 points. Everyone in the whole gym could hear her – but I had to wonder, could she hear herself? Was she just so caught up in the Sunday morning drama of a midsized, regional, U12 basketball tournament that she lost sight of the fact that she was yelling insults at children? And that isn’t the worst thing that has happened, by a long shot. Everyone I know has a story about adults coming to blows, or cussing coaches, or making kids cry during games. This kind of child sports-induced mania is, sadly, becoming a cultural norm.
To combat this, I’ve made a list of some things you might want to keep in mind as you watch your child in his or her sport of choice. If you already know these things, then you might want to cut this out and slip it to that red-faced parent sitting next to you on the bleachers. You know, in the spirit of goodwill. I have titled this list: It’s Just a Game: Calm the @%&* Down
- There is a 99.993% chance that your kid is not going pro. Calm the @%&* down.
- Unless your shirt says “Coach” on it, you are not the Coach. If you aren’t clear on what this means, it means that during a game you should not be yelling instructions to the players. No matter how vital you believe your advice to be.
- The only words you should ever say to a referee are, “Thank you.” They are doing their best. Even when they may make a mistake, it is almost never on purpose. Calling games isn’t a science; sometimes a bad call works in your favor, other times it doesn’t. File this under the category: Life ain’t fair.
- Your child should address their concerns with their coach by themselves. You should not get in your kid’s coach’s face with complaints about playing time, position assignments, or coaching decisions. If your child has a question, they should address it themselves. If they can’t, then either A.) They aren’t old or mature enough to be in competitive sports, B.) It isn’t that important to them, or C.) They’ll learn the very important lesson that they won’t get answers to questions they don’t ask. Either way, you asking for them isn’t helping anyone.
- Your kid is watching you as much as you are watching them. You know those turdlets who make nasty comments to other players on the field during a game? This is a learned behavior. I’ll bet you a year’s supply of Reduced-fat Pringle’s that their parents are doing the same thing on the sidelines.
- You should never say anything to anyone else’s kid other than a compliment. I’ve heard parents yell things at kids on the other team that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. This is never, ever okay. Even if the little bugger raked his cleat against your son’s Achilles. You are the adult, and as such you must refrain from name-calling. (An unfortunate, but undeniable, artifact of adulthood.)
- You are not on ESPN. If you find yourself reporting your child’s stats to anyone who didn’t specifically ask, you should stop. Immediately. At best, this is totally uninteresting; at worst, it is supreme douchebaggery.
- Your child is not as good – or bad – as you think they are. You tuck them into bed at night. You take care of them when they’re sick. When you look at them, you can still see the sweet little three year-old they used to be. You cannot possibly form an objective assessment of their abilities at sports or anything else. It is a good thing this is not your job.
- Win or lose, the lessons are the same. The 25 year-old version of your child will probably not need the technical skills they are learning in their sport of choice. But they will need to know how to be a team player, how to lose gracefully, how to win gracefully, how to show up when they don’t want to, how to stand in someone else’s shadow, how to work with difficult people, how to know when it’s time to lead and when it’s time to follow. They may not become professional athletes, but they will become citizens of this world. And they will use the lessons they learned playing sports during this magnificent ball game we call life.
- There are only 6 words a parent needs to say to their kid after a game: “I love to watch you play.” This has actually been documented by researchers and other sciencey-people. Plus, it just makes good sense. Our kids just want us to have fun watching them. They want us to be proud. They want us to be there. They want us to be happy. (But I think if you’d ask them, they’d also say that above all, they want us to be… quiet.)
As children grow and develop, so grows and develops a parents’ need to examine our use of foul language. This is a slow evolution. Babies don’t give a shit if you swear. Like puppies and houseplants, they are all about intonation.
But babies don’t stay babies forever. Soon, they become toddlers. And a toddler will repeat anything you say – no matter how softly you thought you whispered it. And the worse the thing you said was, the more times they will repeat it. In front of your husband’s parents. Or the babysitter. Or the neighbor kids who will go home and tell their parents they learned to say, “For fuck’s sake, again with the goddamn Cheerios,” at your house. It is a little-known fact that a toddler’s DNA profile is almost identical to that of an African Grey Parrot.
If you successfully make it through the mimicking phase, you are rewarded with the spelling phase. This offers you free rein to c-u-s-s like a sailor whilst preserving your child’s virgin ears. Beware however, that sometimes the spelling phase can overlap with the mimicking phase. Even if they don’t know what they’re saying, it can be disconcerting (or hilarious), to hear your child spell out, “S-H-I-T!” after she stubs her toe. Note: this phase will end without warning. And it will likely happen like this:
You to your spouse: There is so much C-R-A-P in this house, I want to scream.
Your child: Mommy, you spelled ‘crap.’
You: Oh shit.
After the spelling phase, you’re pretty much at a crossroads. You will have to decide that A.) Your kids are going to hear all the words anyway, so why shelter them – or B.) You are going to try to shelter them. If you choose A, your kids will be the ones who teach the other kids at school the A-word, the D-word, the S-word, the B-word, and even the Mac Daddy of them all, the dreaded F-word. If you choose B, your kids will learn the A-word, the D-word, the S-word, the B-word, and even the Mac Daddy word from his or her classmate whose parents chose option A. Either way, you’re fucking delusional if you think you can keep your kids completely away from swear words.
The way I see it, profanity is a part of our language. And I love language. I wouldn’t say that I am a heavy curser, but I definitely employ the occasional expletive when I think it will help make what I’m saying clearer. Or, more often, funnier. (See Above.) My father taught me from a youngish age that a well-placed curse word can really bring some oomph to your communications, provided you are smart about how you use it and don’t allow it to rob you of your creativity.
My husband, however, is of another ilk. He uses curse words like punctuation. I blame his brother for this, since his brother is the only person I know who swears more than he does. (It was no surprise to anyone when my 3yo nephew dropped his sippy cup at the church pre-school and exclaimed, “goddamnit!”) They, The Brothers Orr, feed off each other, escalating their frequency of expletives until what they’re saying becomes almost an unintelligible mashing together of the letter F and the hard-K sound over and over.
In general however, when my husband is not around his brother, he controls his profanity pretty well. There is one major exception to this rule. When confronted with a backed-up toilet (containing numerals 1 or 2) Jimmy Orr’s cursing-spigot turns on and cannot be turned off until the wealth and breadth of his considerable dirty-word arsenal has been completely exhausted, emptied into the air around him like a semi-automatic weapon at an NRA rally. And it always starts the same way. I won’t burden you with the exact phraseology, but it rhymes with, “Sock trucker, brother shucker, bun of a witch…” and so on and so on and so on. And it happens every single time there is a toilet issue. No matter who last used it (once it was our 3-year-old daughter). Or how many friends the kids have over (this weekend there were 3). Or how many times, I try to talk him down off his filthy-mouthed-ledge (that actually just acts as accelerant). When this happened over the weekend, my 10-year-old’s eyes went as wide as saucers. Then she started laughing. This provided the perfect opportunity to talk about the how and why of using profanity, without things getting too judgey.
I don’t encourage parents to use foul language around their kids in regular communications, but like everything else in this life, moderation seems to be the best course. If you try to ban this language completely, like a profanity prohibition, your kids will just run to the nearest speak-easy (read: any place you’re not) and cuss a blue streak. Not to mention, you’ll look like a hypocrite the next time you get caught mid road rage rant. Whether we like it or not, our kids don’t stay kids forever, and they are going to hear these words. It might be from you, it might be from their friends, it might be from my husband the next time someone uses too much TP. These words are a part of our language and since we all know the power that language has, its best to teach our kids how to use that power wisely. Or if not wisely, then at the very least, with style.
My parenting time these days seems to be split equally between putting out fires and quietly fading into the background. Things go from one extreme to the other around here pretty quickly. It’s fire and ice. Spicy or mild. Extra crispy or original recipe. (Author’s note: I probably shouldn’t write when I’m hungry.)
The point is, when my kids need me – they need me.
Mom, I need you to wash my uniform!
Mom, I need you to take me to the mall!
Mom, I need you to sign this form!
But when they don’t need me, I am largely overlooked. I am not reviled; I am not adored. I am simply there. A permanent fixture, like a banister on a staircase or salt on a pretzel. Necessary, functional, but not something you want to focus on.
At 10 & 12, my kids are not really old enough to be embarrassed by me yet, but I can tell they are starting to create a distance in their minds. Upon any expression of my individuality, my 12 year-old gives me the jokey eye roll; my 10 year-old calls me “weird.” (Author’s note: Boy-howdy do I wear that label like a badge of honor – if you are not weird to a 10-year-old girl, you are without a doubt the most boring person who ever lived. Believe.) And most pre-teens I know would prefer for people to think they were zapped into this world, fully formed, the spawn of nothing and nobody, a blank canvas devoid of any outside influence, parental or otherwise. But kids this age still need things – things they can’t really get on their own. Having once been a pre-teen myself, I kind of remember this stage. I wanted my parents to be like genies, an external force there in an instant when I wanted something, and then zoop! back into their bottle until the next time. I’m starting to get that vibe from my kids.
But to my children’s great dissatisfaction, I do not exist to fulfill all of their wishes at a moment’s notice. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t – but whichever way the hammer falls, I do what I do for my kids in service of their impending adulthood. It is my one job as their mother: To create responsible human beings capable of living on their own.
So I guess it isn’t a surprise, when I look at it through that lens, that my practical significance in my kids’ lives is starting to diminish as they get older. This is what happens. I recently read a quote from Neil Gaiman’s Newberry Award acceptance speech for The Graveyard Book, a book that appears to be about childhood but is really about parenthood. He said,“[it is] the most fundamental and comical tragedy of parenthood: That if you do your job properly, if you, as a parent, raise your children well, they won’t need you anymore. If you did it properly, they go away.”
I agree with this sentiment down to my very bones. I mean, I don’t want my kids to ever “go away” permanently or anything. A phone call every now and then would be nice. (And it would it kill them to come visit once in a while?) But it is our job as parents to raise self-sufficient people. People who have lives of their own and jobs and families and friends and futures. People who hopefully like to spend time with their parents– but who don’t need us. Not really.
I know this is pretty obvious. We all head into parenting knowing what the end-game is. But when I used to think about the end-game when my kids were younger, I thought about it in 2 distinct stages: childhood and adulthood. I never really thought about what the process of getting from one to the other would look like. As I near the mid-point of this journey with my kids, I’m starting to learn what it feels like. For me, it’s a feeling of flickering importance. One minute, I am indispensable, the next I’m superfluous. I go from being the sun and the moon, to the wind in the trees, and back again, sometimes within the same hour. Sometimes within the same sentence. This schizophrenic push-pull is new, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
If I let myself think about too long, it makes me want to hold my kids tight and snuggle them into my bed and lock the doors and move to rural Alaska or 1902 or an episode of Little House on the Prairie -someplace or time when kids didn’t grow up so fast. But in other, more rational and less panicked-crazy-lady moments, I feel confident and comforted by the people I see them becoming – I know this is all as it should be, no matter how hard it is or how uncomfortable the process feels. (Author’s note: I guess they aren’t the only ones with the schizophrenic push-pull thing going on.)
I’d love to hear from others out there on how you feel about this – especially those of you with older kids. Despite the name of this blog, advice is always, always welcome here :)
As parents, it is our job to teach our children important life lessons. We teach them everything from how to treat others to how to tie their shoes. But in the midst of all this “being the expert,” it can be easy to forget that our kids have lessons to teach us as well. And I’m not talking about warm-fuzzy stuff like smelling roses and dancing like no one is watching. (Do not be fooled. People are always watching.) In a very practical sense, kids can teach us certain things that we tend to lose sight of as we age. Specifically, I’m talking about how to embrace creativity.
When it comes to creative pursuits, kids follow Yoda’s teachings: “Do or do not. There is no try.” They don’t try to finger-paint. They dip their chubby little fingers knuckle-deep into that paint and fling it like Jackson Pollock. They don’t try to write poetry. They just write it. They don’t let minor details like spelling, grammar, or coherency get in their way. When they tell you a knock-knock joke, they are a stand-up comedian. When they pick up a blob of clay, they become a sculptor. Have you ever seen a four-year-old transform into a mixed-media master while up to his eyeballs in construction paper and googlely-eyes? It’s a beautiful thing.
But this magical sprinkling of I’m-good-enough fairy dust usually wears off somewhere between five and eight-years-old. This is when kids start to worry that their drawing of the elephant doesn’t look like the one in the book. Or that the way they sing, “Roar,” sounds different from Katy Perry’s version. As a parent, you can see this change take place. It’s like watching a light go off. Whatever gatekeeper has kept the self-consciousness away walks off the job and doubt swoops in to take its place, all furrowed eyebrows and straight lines. Kids stop doing things and start trying to do things. And while this might be okay when it comes to sports or schoolwork (things that require mastery before advancement), when it comes to free-form creativity, it’s kind of sad.
Instinctively, we know this isn’t a good thing. We don’t want their light to go out. We don’t want them to hold their creations to someone else’s standard of perfection. We’ve been there and we know that is the surest way to run the imagination well dry. So we say to them, “Don’t worry about coloring inside the lines, honey.” But they still look at their picture like it’s a plate of boiled onions. Because even though we are saying one thing, too often we are doing another. How many times have we obsessed over wrapping a gift just-so. Or tried to make a project as perfect as it looks on Pinterest, only to ultimately fail and lament it out loud. Our kids see us try to be creative in the Right Way and they absorb it. They watch us judge ourselves, and since they view themselves as an extension of us, they apply those judgments internally. (Or completely rebel against them… but that’s a subject for another day.)
I think the best way to protect our kids innate creativity, is to do as they do. Turn our own lights back on and just do, without worrying so much about the outcome. Children know that creativity has nothing to do with being good at something. It has nothing to do with skill or talent or ability. And it certainly has nothing to do with Perfect. Creativity made up of 100% confidence. The confidence to do instead of try. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a painter, paint. If you want to be a dancer, dance. Even if someone is watching. Because they are – and chances are it’s your kids.
Back in college, I had a friend who went on a blind date with a guy I’ll call Billy Bob. That was not his name, but could have been for reasons that will become clear in a moment. On the date, Billy Bob took my friend to the McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner and while ordering, he yelled into the speaker, “I’ll have a number 2… and while you’re at it why don’t you go ahead and super-size that son-of-a-bitch.”
The moral of this story is two-fold. First, things could always be worse. You could be on a date with someone who:
- A.) Takes you to McDonald’s for dinner.
- B.) Orders a “Number 2.”
- C.) Calls his Number 2 a son-of-a-bitch.
- D.) And wants that son-of-a-bitch super-sized.
The second moral of the story is that people love to upgrade. It’s true. Entire companies – hell, entire countries – have been built on this practice.
- “Would you like a mid-size instead of a compact?”
- “Would you like to add the protection plan?”
- “Would you like me to change the election laws to allow me a third term as President?”
Once a person has agreed to something, getting them to agree to a small percentage more is a piece of cake that’s just been upgraded to a la mode.
I’ve decided I’d like to incorporate this highly effective strategy into my parenting regimen. I think it’s a natural fit as I often have to sell the idea of certain household responsibilities to my kids. Loading the dishwasher is fun! Raking leaves is great exercise! If you help me wash the windows, you can spray the Windex!
The problem is that at 9 & 12, my kids aren’t buying it anymore. They are no longer taken in by my enticements, and household gadgets have lost their appeal. I remember the days when my daughter begged me to use the Swiffer. Now she runs away when I get it out. They have discovered that the scrubbing bubbles don’t really talk or have mustaches, the fabric softener teddy bear won’t hop off the label and give them a big hug, and that no matter how clearly they yell, “Accio!” that broom ain’t gonna fly ‘em to the Quidditch pitch.
The problem with trying to up-sell my kids into doing their chores, is that chores don’t really have much of an upside. Sure, there is comfort that comes from a clean house, but that doesn’t mean much to your average preteen. Their comfort comes in different packaging. For them comfort is knowing their mother won’t rap along to that new Eminem song when their friends are in the car, or take them with her go bra shopping. Rather than the satisfaction of a job well done, their comfort mostly lies in being left alone. Except when they need money or food or help with homework.
So it makes finding the added-value in household responsibilities a bit of challenge for this age group. I’ve taken a stab at it and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- If you clean your bathroom you can avoid getting dysentery!
- If you clear the table, you will be offered food again at the next meal time!
- If you pick up your dirty clothes, you will get to keep them and thus avoid having to go to school naked!
- If you throw away your trash instead of stuffing it under the couch, you won’t have to share the sofa with rodents!
- If you check your attitude even when you’re grumpy in the morning, I won’t yell, “Mommy loves you!” at the top of my lungs when I drop you off at middle school!
Ok. So some of these are more like blackmail. But still. I think they might just work.
I like the concept of teaching my children that there are added, perhaps under-appreciated, benefits to even the simplest of tasks. Even if those under-appreciated benefits are really just me making up ways to torture them should they decide to be non-compliant. Now that I think of it, maybe this isn’t so much me up-selling them on chores, as me super-sizing my threats. Either way, if it gets them to take out the trash, I’m good with it.
As an avid shopper, I know what I like and what I don’t when it comes to retail salespeople. It’s pretty simple: I like to feel that my business matters, that I am not being taken advantage of, and that the decision to buy something – or not – is mine alone.
I despise being “sold” to. To me there is nothing worse than walking into a furniture store with the intention of casually browsing and having some schmoe follow me around yapping about the great financing I can get TODAY ONLY! Sell-me too hard and I’m outta there. And chances are, I won’t be back.
On the flip side, don’t ignore me either. It’s like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Remember when the snotty lady at the boutique won’t help her while she’s dressed as the Carol Channing hooker so she comes back later with an armful of bags from their competitor and says, “Big mistake.” We love that moment because at one time or another we’ve all been written off as not worth a salesperson’s time. It’s insulting. And it’s bad business on the part of the seller, because you can’t judge a shopper by how they look. Just watch Duck Dynasty. Those rednecks are rolling with some serious disposable income.
I was recently asked by the Columbia Business Times to come up with some Do’s and Don’ts of retail sales. Here’s what topped my list:
- Follow the adage A.B.C: Always Be Complimenting. People love to be flattered. Especially by someone in the know. In retail, as the sales associate, you are the expert, so if you compliment what a customer is wearing, it is especially meaningful. Also, if people are shopping with their children, compliment their kids. “Your children have wonderful manners.” Or if they don’t then, “Your children are adorable.” There is no faster way to a person’s heart than through their children, since most people who walk into a store with kids are just trying to get out of there without breaking anything.
- Exploit a Mob Mentality. We are nothing if not a competitive culture, and hearing, “We just can’t keep those in stock!” or “Everyone just loves these!” will often tip the scales if someone is on the fence. I’ll admit I once bought a scarf at a boutique in LA because the sales lady said Michael Jackson had looked at it.
- Gently UpSell. It can be really helpful, not to mention lucrative, if a saleswoman brings me a pair of shorts that would go perfectly with the top I’m trying on. This is especially effective if it’s combines this with the ABC principle: “I saw these shorts and thought they’d totally accentuate your legs!” Now, I’m buying 2 items instead of just the one I came in for.
- Thank people for their business. This sounds simple, but it is really important. At Nordstrom, the undisputed king of customer service, the sale associate brings each customer his/her bag by walking out from behind the register and thanking them for their business. This is a nice touch and helps mitigate against buyer’s remorse.
- Ask a woman if she is pregnant. Ever. Even if she looks like she swallowed a basketball, is holding What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and flashing a sonogram picture – do not assume she is pregnant. If she isn’t, you’ll never recover from that kind of awkward. My husband’s rule: Unless the baby is coming through the birth canal, you never ask a woman if she is having a baby. (He once did. She wasn’t. Result: He had to go to a different Panera for months.)
- Risk a bad joke. This falls under the heading Know Thy Audience. Recently while at lunch with girlfriends, a waiter joked that my friend was a “picky woman” because she ordered her sandwich with no onions. I think he was trying to be funny, but he wasn’t. He made it worse when he corrected himself with, “No – I mean, you’re a woman, therefore you’re picky.” Tragic. Had there been a man at the table with whom he was trying to have an Am I right? moment, then fine. Still offensive, but not into tip-effecting territory. In this case, we all just thought he was a jerk.
- Be inappropriate. Male sales associates have to be careful never to become too familiar with female customers or make comments about clothing that covers certain body parts. “Those are great shoes.” Good. “That tank top really shows off your assets.” Bad. Nothing kills a sale faster than a pervy sales guy.
How about you? Do you have any sales Do’s or Don’ts to share?